Updated: Apr 7
In the 1920s, he worked in Hollywood with famous directors and stars
Curtis is best known for his many thousands of iconic photographs of Native Peoples, but in the 1920s he moved his studio from Seattle to Los Angeles. He worked there for the next two decades, taking portraits of Hollywood stars, socialites, and the local elite.
Because of his many skills, he was called upon by Hollywood directors to take still photos on their movie sets. Among the films he worked on were Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1923). He also was the second cameraman for that film.
Curtis took on all of these jobs in order to have enough money to continue his work on The North American Indian. He finally completed that project in 1930.
He once insisted that the word “Spokane” should be pronounced with a long “a”.
Despite the long-held tradition of saying the name of the eastern Washington city as "Spo-CAN," Curtis was quoted in several 1912 newspaper articles as claiming it should be pronounced Spo-KANE. We don't know why he thought this, although it might have had something to do with the "e" added at the end of the spelling used by the city. Curtis visited and photographed the Spokane People in 1910, and he always referred to them as the "Spokan" People (without the added "e"). According to current Spokane Nation Culture and Language Department, the Spokane People have always used the short “a” pronunciation for their name, regardless of how someone might choose to spell it in English. Curtis appears to have quietly given up his assertion, as no further news items about it appear after 1912.
He was given the Navajo nickname of "Man-who-sleeps-on-his-breath."
In 1907, this article appeared the Seattle newspaper The Argus. The name stayed with him when he went back to visit the Navaho and Hopi Peoples in the Southwest.
Do you like reading stories like this? If so, please support our work. As a nonprofit organization, we depend on donations from readers like you.